ודתן ואבירם יצאו נצבים פתח אהליהם ונשיהם ובניהם וטפם... ותבקע האדמה אשר תחתיהם. ותפתח הארץ את פיה ותבלע אתם ואת בתיהם ואת כל האדם אשר לקרח ואת כל הרכוש. וירדו הם וכל אשר להם חיים שאלה ותכס עליהם הארץ ויאבדו מתוך הקהל.
Dasan and Aviram went out to the entrances of their tents, standing boldly, together with their wives, their children, and their infants… and the ground beneath them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their homes, and all who were with Korach, and all their possessions. They, and all their possessions, descended alive into the abyss. The earth covered them, and they were lost from the congregation.
בא וראה כמה קשה המחלוקת, שהרי בית דין של מטה אין עונשין אלא עד שיביא שתי שערות, ובית דין של מעלה עד עשרים שנה, וכאן אבדו אף יונקי שדים.
From here we can learn the severity of machlokes (bitter conflict). Earthly courts do not punish a person for his sins until he has reached the age of physical maturity. The Heavenly court does not punish a person until he has reached the age of twenty. Here, [as punishment for machlokes] even nursing infants were lost.
The effects of machlokes are indeed terrifying. Innocent babies, who had never tasted sin in their short lives, were swallowed by the earth as a punishment for the disputes of their fathers. How can we understand this? Where is the justice in this punishment? Let the fathers be punished for their sin, but the innocent children should have been spared. They had no part in their fathers’ conflict.
It seems that Korach’s followers were not punished as individuals, but rather as a community. When a community allows the flames of machlokes to rage in its midst, the guilty and the innocent suffer together; men, women and even helpless babies.
The terrible punishment incurred by machlokes was expressed by the Arizal, to explain the possuk:
כי יפלא ממך דבר למשפט בין דם לדם בין דין לדין ובין נגע לנגע דברי ריבת בשעריך.
If you are unable to understand an issue, between blood and blood, between judgment and judgment, between plague and plague – words of strife in your gates.
Following the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the terrible calamities that befell Klal Yisroel in its wake, the angels were unable to understand Hashem’s judgment.
“Master of the Universe,” they said. “You wrote in Your Torah (concerning the mitzva to cover the blood of a fowl or beast), ‘You shall spill its blood and cover it with earth.’ Yet the blood of Klal Yisrael runs freely through the street, and is neither covered nor buried.”
“You wrote in Your Torah (concerning a house struck with tzaraas), ‘You shall empty the house,’ (to protect its contents from becoming ruined by impurity) and only then, ‘The Kohen shall inspect the house for impurity.’ Yet the Beis HaMikdash and all its precious contents have been consumed by fire.”
“You wrote in Your Torah (concerning the laws of shechita), ‘You shall not slaughter it and its child on the same day.’ Yet Chana and her seven sons were all killed on the same day.”
The angels were unable to understand the difference between blood and blood, between judgment and judgment, between plague and plague. Why were the Jews subjected to a punishment far more severe than the dictates of the Torah? Hashem answered the angels with the conclusion of the possuk, “Words of strife in your gates.” Klal Yisroel was punished with a heavy hand due to the machlokes among them. Machlokes drives away Hashem’s mercy and invites His strict judgment to take its place.
Yet, just as machlokes wreaks destruction so does the pursuit of peace invoke Heavenly mercy and protection from misfortune. Peace is an indestructible barrier, which shields us from all harm.
Our Sages tell us that in the time of David HaMelech, young children who had not yet tasted sin were already able to expound from the Torah forty nine aspects of impurity, and forty nine aspects of purity. David HaMelech prayed for them, “Hashem, may You protect them” – may the Torah be preserved in their hearts. Yet despite their greatness in Torah wisdom, the soldiers of his generation fell in battle, due to the lashon hara spoken among them. In contrast, the soldiers of King Achav were all idolaters. Nevertheless, they went out to battle and returned unharmed, since they did not speak lashon hara.
From here we see that even if Klal Yisrael practice sins as heinous as idolatry, we are still protected in the merit of the peace and unity among us. In a similar vein, our Sages note that the Generation of the Flood was totally destroyed, leaving behind no remnant, whereas the Generation of the Tower of Bavel was scattered across the world, but their lives were spared.
The Midrash explains that theft was rampant in the Generation of the Flood, which displayed their disunity. The Generation of the Tower of Bavel, although terribly wicked, were united by love for one another, as the possuk testifies, “And the entire earth was of one tongue.”
The Midrash states that the power of peace is so great that even if Bnei Yisrael worship idols, then (as far as it may be said) Hashem is “unable” to punish us, as the possuk states, “Ephraim is united in his idolatry. Leave him be!” However, when there is discord among us we are punished for our sins, as a following possuk states, “Their hearts are split, now they shall be destroyed.”
We can now begin to understand the gravity of our Sages’ statement, “Great is peace, and detestable is machlokes.”
ויקהלו על משה ועל אהרן ויאמרו אלהם רב לכם כי כל העדה כלם קדשים ובתוכם ה', ומדוע תתנשאו על קהל ה'.
And they gathered around Moshe and Aharon and said, “You have claimed too much (honor for yourselves). The entire congregation is holy, and Hashem is among them. Why do you raise yourselves above the congregation of Hashem?
The Chiddushei HaRim noted the shocking irony of this accusation. How could they possibly have challenged Moshe of seeking honor, after Hashem Himself testified that Moshe was the most humble person in the world:
והאיש משה עניו מאד מכל האדם אשר על פני האדמה.
And the man, Moshe, was very humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth.
It is interesting to note that Moshe was called humble in comparison to כל האדם, which literally means, “any other person.” We can also understand this as an allusion to Avraham, David and Moshe. The first letters of their names spell out the word אדם. All three were praised for their humility, yet Moshe was the humblest of them all.
Moshe Rabbeinu said, ונחנו מה - “What are we?” Our Sages tell us that this was an even greater expression of humility than Avraham Avinu’s statement, “I am but dust and ashes.”
Korach was no fool. How could he have made such an absurd accusation? From here we see the power of machlokes. People are swept away by the torrent of contention, which blinds their senses, clouds their thoughts, and renders them unable to differentiate between right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
The Yalkut Shimoni relates the following story:
"ובמושב לצים לא ישב" זה קרח שהיה מתלוצץ על משה ואהרן. מה עשה כינס עליהם כל הקהל שנאמר ויקהל עליהם קרח את כל העדה, התחיל לומר לפניהם דברי ליצנות. אמר להן אלמנה אחת היתה בשכנותי ועמה שתי נערות יתומות והיה לה שדה אחת. באת לחרוש אמר לה משה לא תחרוש בשור ובחמור יחדו, באת לזרוע אמר לה שדך לא תזרע כלאים, באת לקצור ולעשות ערימה אמר הניחו לקט שכחה ופאה, באת לעשות גורן אמר לה תני תרומה ומעשר ראשון ומעשר שני, הצדיקה עליה את הדין ונתנה לו. מה עשתה עמדה ומכרה את השדה ולקחה שתי כבשות כדי ללבוש גיזותיהן וליהנות מפירותיהן כיון שילדו בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי את הבכורות שכך אמר לי הקב"ה כל הבכור אשר יולד וגו'. הצדיקה עליה את הדין ונתנה לו את הולדות, הגיע זמן גזיזה וגזזה אותן. אמר לה תני לי ראשית הגז שכן אמר הקב"ה וראשית גז צאנך תתן לו. אמרה אין בי כח לעמוד באיש הזה הריני שוחטתן ואוכלתן, כיון ששחטה אמר לה תני לי הזרוע והלחיים והקיבה אמרה אפי' אחר ששחטתי אותן לא נצלתי מידו ואמרה הרי הן עלי חרם אמר לה כולו שלי הוא שכך אמר הקב"ה כל חרם בישראל לך יהיה, נטל והלך לו והניחה בוכה היא עם שתי בנותיה.
“In the assemblies of the mockers, he does not sit.” This possuk refers to Korach, who mocked Moshe and Aharon. He gathered the entire congregation… to ridicule (Moshe and Aharon) in their presence.
He said to them, “There was a widow in my neighborhood with two orphan daughters. She owned only one field. When she came to plow it, Moshe told her, ‘Do not plow with an ox and donkey together.’ When she came to sow it, Moshe told her, ‘Do not plant mixed seeds.’ When she came to harvest it, Moshe told her, ‘Leave leket (fallen sheaves), shich’acha (forgotten bundles) and pei’ah (the corner of the field).’ When she came to gather the produce, Moshe told her, ‘Separate tithes.’ She accepted these laws, and conceded to all his demands.”
“Then, she sold her field and bought two ewes, to wear their wool and enjoy their profits. When they gave birth, Aharon came and told her, ‘Give me the firstborn, as Hashem commanded’... She conceded, and gave him the lambs. When the time came to shear the ewes, he told her, “Give me the first shearings, as Hashem commanded’ …
“‘I have no more strength to deal with this man,’ she said. ‘I will slaughter my sheep and eat them.’ When she slaughtered them, Aharon said, ‘Give me the forearm, the jaws and the stomach..’”
“‘Even after I have slaughtered them, I am not free from him,’ she said. ‘I will sanctify them as cheirem.’ Aharon then said, ‘They are all mine now, as Hashem commanded’… He took the sheep and left the widow and her daughters in tears.”
The absurdity of this libel cries out to the Heavens. Korach’s story was obviously fictitious. They were still in the desert at that point. Nobody had any fields to plant or harvest. Furthermore, the agricultural mitzvos he ridiculed did not take effect until they settled Eretz Yisroel. How was he so successful in luring the masses after his cause with such a flimsy lie?
Once again, we see the malignant force of machlokes at work. Once a person has been swept into a conflict, he will view even the most baseless derision as undeniable truth, which fans the flames of dissent, consuming both guilty and innocent, young and old alike.
וידבר אל קרח ואל כל עדתו לאמר בקר וידע ה' את אשר לו ואת הקדוש והקריב אליו ואת אשר יבחר בו יקריב אליו.
And he (Moshe) spoke to Korach and his entire congregation, saying, “In the morning, Hashem will reveal the one who is His own, and the holy one, and draw him close to Himself. He will draw to Himself the one He has chosen.”
Rashi comments on this verse as follows:
ומדרשו בקר, אמר לו משה, גבולות חלק הקב"ה בעולמו, יכולים אתם להפוך בקר לערב, כן תוכלו לבטל את זו, שנאמר ויהי ערב ויהי בוקר ... ויבדל ,כך ויבדל אהרן להקדישו וגו'.
The Midrash explains that Moshe mentioned the morning, to symbolize the boundaries Hashem set in His world. “Can you turn morning into night?” (he asked Korach). It is equally impossible to revoke Aharon’s appointment as Kohen Gadol. One possuk states, “It was evening and it was morning … and Hashem separated (between the light and the darkness).” A corresponding possuk states, “Hashem separated Aharon to sanctify him.”
What is the meaning of this Midrash? How is the distinction between night and day relevant to Aharon’s distinction as Kohen Gadol? Perhaps we can explain this based on the Gemara:
תנו רבנן עלובין ואינן עולבין שומעין חרפתן ואינן משיבין עושין מאהבה ושמחין ביסורין עליהן הכתוב אומר ואהביו כצאת השמש בגברתו.
Those who are ridiculed, but do not ridicule others; hear their disgrace, but do not respond… of them the possuk states, “Those who love Him will be like the sun, which goes forth in its might.”
The Iyun Yaakov commentary on Ein Yaakov offers a beautiful explanation of this Gemara. When the world was first created, the sun and moon were of equal size. The moon then complained to Hashem, “Can two kings wear the same crown?” It wished to be greater than the sun. The sun heard its disgrace, but did not respond. Hashem agreed to the moon’s complaint, that the sun and moon should not be of equal size. Yet, rather than diminish the sun, he diminished the moon instead, leaving the sun the greater of the two.
In each and every generation, this is Hashem’s method of resolving disputes between those who ridicule, and those who are ridiculed; between those who disgrace others, and those who are disgraced but do not respond. He knocks down the ridiculers and disgracers, and uplifts the ridiculed and disgraced. He comforts the disgraced, as He comforted the sun – “Those who love Him will be like the sun, that goes forth in its might.”
With this we can better understand Rashi’s explanation of our possuk. “Can you turn morning into night?” Moshe asked Korach. It is equally impossible to revoke Aharon’s appointment as Kohen Gadol. Anyone who attempts to do so, disgracing Aharon in the process, will suffer the same fate as the moon, which was thrown down from its grandeur. Yet Aharon and Moshe, who were ridiculed and disgraced, emerged victorious, “Like the sun that goes forth in its might.”
 Bamidbar 16:27, 31-33
 Rashi, 16:27
 Devarim 17:8
 Vayikra 17:13
 Vayikra 14:36
 Vayikra 22:28
 Likutei Torah (Arizal), Shoftim
 Tehillim 12:8
 Bamidbar Rabbah 19:2
 Bereishis Rabbah 38:7
 Bereishis 11:1
 Hosheia 4:17
 ibid, 10:2
 Sifri, Nasso 42
 Bamidbar 16:3
 Bamidbar 12:3
 Bereishis 18:27, see Chullin 89a.
 Yalkut Shimoni, Torah 750
 Bamidbar 16:5
 Bereishis, 1:5,4
 Divrei HaYomim I, 23:13
 Shoftim 5:31; Shabbos 88b